Thinking Weight Loss? Rethink Sleep!

Post by Dr. Tanvi Maharaja, PT, DPT, OCS

As a post-partum mom, I struggled tremendously with getting my body back. I have undergone 2 C-sections in my life, and after each of these surgeries, I gained roughly 40-50lbs. Over time, I did manage to come down to my more-or-less normal weight, but it was a struggle.

Had I known what I now know about weight loss, I would have managed it differently, and it would have been so much easier!

Whether you are a new parent who is barely keeping it together (clue: that’s every new parent!), or a busy parent who has no time to try fancy diets, or you are working out in the gym and doing all the right things and still not losing weight, or you are peri-menopausal (now that’s a whole other blog… or book!), no matter where you are in life in your weight management journey, if you are trying to lose weight, you need a tried-and-trusted friend to walk by your side: SLEEP.

Sleep helps in a number of ways, but the one thing I want to highlight in this blog is the hormonal connection of sleep to weight management. Or to be more precise, appetite management.

When we sleep, the body releases two key hormones which help with appetite regulation: 

Leptin: This is the hormone that lets us know when we are full when eating. So if someone offers us another slice of cake, we can say “no, thank you!”. This is the “I am done” hormone.

Ghrelin: This hormone is the hunger hormone and lets us know when its time to eat, or, more importantly, when it is right to continue eating. This hormone says “Yes, please!” to that slice of cake. This is the “I am starving” hormone.

Usually, in the body, they are balanced. So while we know when we are hungry, we also know when to stop, when we have had enough.

So how does sleep factor in?

Poor sleep is known to disrupt the leptin-ghrelin balance, driving up ghrelin, making us feel hungrier and wanting more, and sending poor signals when we are full. So we end up eating more that we otherwise would.

When you sleep poorly and pull that all-nighter, ghrelin levels rise: so you will be a poor judge of when to say no to food the next day.

When you sleep poorly over a long period of time, leptin levels fall: now you are a poor judge of when you are hungry and may end up eating misjudging body cues and have poor eating habits. Also, poor sleep over a long time leads to lethargy and fatigue, thereby making you less likely to engage in physical exercise or even think clearly about the food choices you make.

Therefore, the road to a healthy body weight is through Sleepsville!

As a physical therapist, I always educate patients on sleep hygiene. It is immensely important not only for weight management but also for other hormonal and pain conditions throughout the body.

If you think that your sleep is getting in the way of that magical number you want to see on the scale, talk to your doctor about a referral to a sleep specialist. Watch this space for more blogs on sleep and sleep hygiene. 

Your 40 winks are more precious than you think!

Happy sleeping, happy eating!

Stay strong!

Stay healthy!

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